THE letter from Robert Roach (Safer Tests, News Shopper, April 16) contains the usual distortions and out of context quotations we at Pro-Test are accustomed to hearing from the anti-vivisection lobby.

The discovery penicillin was an effective antibiotic was made using tests in mice by Howard Florey and Ernst Chain.

Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin but never assessed its antibiotic activity in animals.

The contribution of all three scientists to this breakthrough was recognized when they were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1945 for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases.

The same mouse test was crucial to the earlier discovery of the sulfonamide antibiotic Prontosil by Gerhard Domagk, a discovery which launched the antibiotic revolution in medicine in the mid-1930s.

Mr Roach uses a classic straw man argument when he refers to drugs "being proved safe in animals".

Pre-clinical animal testing of drugs is not intended to "prove" drugs are safe, but to provide enough information about their safety to justify taking them to larger clinical trials in humans.

Vioxx is a case in point. Tests on a few score animals may not have shown any significant increase in the risk of heart attack, but then neither did clinical trials involving thousands of human patients which were carried out before the drug was licensed.

Thalidomide was not tested on pregnant animals before being approved for use in women.

Had it been, the ensuing tragedy would probably never have happened.

Animal research remains crucial to medical advances.

Take, for example, Lucentis, a mouse monoclonal antibody-derived drug which is an effective treatment for wet age related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older people.

The scientific research leading to the development of Lucentis, production of the drug itself, and its pre-clinical evaluation all depended on the use of animals.

It is likely in the coming decades many animal tests will be phased out as non-animal methods are developed.

Scientific knowledge and technical capability are advancing rapidly, but it would be folly to abandon tests which play a vital role in the development of new medicines before replacements are available.


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